7 Reasons to Visit Portola Redwoods State Park

Ok, I’m officially in love with California State Parks, and Portola Redwoods State Park is just the last in a growing list of completely underrated state parks that are totally worth a visit.

7 Reasons to visit Portola Redwoods State Park:

  1. It has giant, beautiful redwoods everywhere
  2. It’s “Fern Gully level,” lush and green
  3. It’s accessible from the Bay Area
  4. It’s easier to get a campsite here than Big Basin Redwoods State Park
  5. It has the most charming visitor center I have ever seen
  6. It protects an endangered bird called the Marbled Murrelet
  7. It has banana slugs

So basically, what other reasons do you need?

Here’s the nitty-gritty on Portola Redwoods:

Located just off the California coast between the Pacific Ocean and San Jose in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
2,800 acres
18 miles of trails
$10 vehicle day-use fee  
$35/night for a campsite (with an $8 reservation fee—insert eyeroll). Campsites can be reserved through reservecalifornia.com and include bathrooms and running water.
No cell service in the park, but there is a pay phone at the visitor center.
Dogs allowed in the campground and paved surfaces only.
Major attractions are moderate/difficult hikes to groves of large redwoods and/or waterfalls.

1. Ok, first of all, the reason the space was made into a state park: the redwoods. The thing about redwoods is that they really have to grow with other redwood friends in order to survive.

They grow to incredible heights—upwards of 300 feet–and are among the tallest trees in the WORLD. But they have incredibly shallow roots (6-12 ft), which makes them susceptible to toppling if their roots can’t hold hands with other redwood roots to make them stronger.

Redwood trees can also be incredibly long-lived as long as humans with axes don’t get to them, which—woops—we have already.

Ninety-five percent of redwoods in California have been clear-cut by humans, which makes protecting every. last. one of them a huge priority. Portola Redwoods is dotted with small groves, and all are demarcated with little signposts named after people.

Photo by Meredith Dennis

These redwoods aren’t the biggest ones in the state, but heck, give them time and they will be!

2. The intensity of greenness here is a real breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively, since plants make our oxygen😉). The moisture coming off the Pacific Ocean helps create a stunningly green mountain escape.

When we visited in early April, the wildflowers were popping, which of course, no one hates.

3. Portola Redwoods is basically in San Francisco and San Jose’s backyard. In fact, it’s about an hour’s drive from the heart of both of these cities. We saw many big families from the Bay Area camping and living it up.

4. Portola Redwoods isn’t as popular as Big Basin Redwoods State Park, so it’s easier to get campsites. In fact, that is why we ended up here! The trees here aren’t as big as Big Basin, and it’s a bit smaller of a park, but don’t let this discourage you.

5. Ok, the visitor center is next-level log cabin charming. It was originally built as a masonic lodge before the park was established in 1924. The visitor center features an enormous stone fireplace with squashy couches all around.

The inside features dioramas with taxidermied animals from the area (including a bobcat kitten—so cute and so sad!) and a giant 3D relief map of the area. All of this frames giant floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the lodge.

Photo by Meredith Dennis

6. The park protects an endangered bird called the marbled murrelet, which the Audobon society describes as a “strange, mysterious little seabird”–which is saying a lot coming from bird people.

The marbled murrelet is weird because it’s a seabird, but it nests miles away from the coast in old-growth forests (*ahem* exactly the description of Portola Redwoods).

To protect this strange, mysterious bird, the park emphasizes that your camp must be “crumb clean” at all times.

Leaving crumbs out attracts jays and ravens, which are the teenage a$$holes of the bird world.

They’ll eat the murrelet’s eggs while, presumably, the terrified murrelet looks on?? I’m guessing?? How horrifying is that??

So don’t leave your crumbs out.

7. Finally, Portola Redwoods has banana slugs. Banana slugs aren’t ONLY found here, but I think they are fantastic, so anywhere with them is a plus for me. If you dislike banana slugs, fear not; we only saw one, and it wasn’t acting aggressively.

Photo by Meredith Dennis

Finally, remember to respect the rules that protect natural resources when you visit Portola Redwoods. Parks close to major urban areas receive huge numbers of visitors every year; how you act matters in spaces like this.

3 thoughts on “7 Reasons to Visit Portola Redwoods State Park

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